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Eugene Herman “Pelle” Petersen was born in Fauske, Norway. His family came to Sandon in 1922 and Gene lived here the rest of his life. After leaving school, Gene was employed in Sandon at a variety of odd jobs, including errand boy, store clerk, miner, prospector, mine owner, trapper, logger and always as a practical joker. As well, Gene was operator of the Silversmith Powerhouse for over 25 years. An avid outdoorsman, Gene knew the secrets of the forest, with its grouse, owl, deer and bear. And although he was an accomplished hunter, Gene respected and treasured the natural beauty of his surroundings

For many years, Gene was the last remaining full-time resident of the community, and was known locally as “the mayor of Sandon.” At 66 years of residing in Sandon, he holds the record for longevity! For most of that time, it was largely due to Gene’s efforts that the few remaining original buildings were protected and shovelled in winter.

Gene helped in the creation of the Sandon Museum, and he was the first president of the Sandon Historical Society, donating the City Hall into the Society's care. Among his many other skills, Gene was a writer and amateur poet. He wrote about his lifetime in Sandon in his memoirs, Window in the Rock, but unfortunately he died before it was published. Copies of his book are available to examine at the retail counter in the Sandon Historical Society Museum.

One of the most crucial jobs in the Slocan mines was also one of the most difficult, unhealthy and dangerous: hand-drilling holes in solid rock with a length of steel and a hammer. These holes would then be filled with explosive charges which would be detonated, blasting out chunks of rock and pushing the tunnel a few feet ahead. Once the smoke and dust settled, “muckers” would come in behind the drillers to haul out all the chunks of loose rock; the valuable ore would be separated and sacked, and waste rock would be discarded onto the tailings dump. Meanwhile, the drillers would be back at work, hammering more holes in the rock to accept the next round of charges, in a never-ending cycle. In smaller mines, of course, the driller, mucker and sorter were one and the same person, but many of the larger mines had crews of dozens of men, which allowed for specialization. In drilling a hole for the charge, the miner would start with a one-foot piece of sharpened drill steel, striking it with a hammer, then giving it a slight turn to loosen the rock chips and keep the steel from binding in the hole. As the hole deepened, a longer drill steel would be substituted, until the final drill, which was usually between four and five feet long. Working by flickering candle-light in the early years, and later by carbide lamps, the drillers often worked above their heads for 10 hours a day, with rock fragments cascading over them. Frequently, the dust particles they inhaled would lead to silicosis in their lungs, which meant a slow, agonizing death by drowning years later, as the aging miner struggled to breathe through the fluid that filled his inflamed chest. If the tunnel was being driven through harder rock, the driller often worked with a partner — one man would hold the drill steel in place while the second man would swing the hammer. After a set length of time, the two men would switch, with the holder becoming the striker, and vice-versa. If the miner was working alone, he used a four-pound (1.81 kg) hammer; a twoman team called for an eight-pound (3.63 kg) hammer. Traditionally, many of the early miners were Welsh or Cornish in origin, and gained the nickname “Jack,” or “Cousin Jack.” Because of this, if the Men of iron, drills of steel: driving a tunnel through a mountain of granite rock miner was working alone it was called “single-jacking” while a two-man team was said to be “double-jacking.” Needless to say, the man holding the steel had to trust the hammer-man implicitly, for one slip-up could mean being maimed for life. Many of these miners became extremely adept at working as a team, drilling holes several feet long in a matter of minutes. This drilling prowess soon became a matter of pride, wagers and tournaments. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, large rock-drilling competitions were held in mining camps all over North America, often with purses in the thousands of dollars, and even greater amounts hanging in the balance on side-bets. Often these competitions could bring far more money than weeks or even months of work underground, and miners trained for them with all the seriousness and dedication of an Olympic athlete. Toplevel single-jackers and double-jackers would frequently travel halfway across the continent to attend an important tournament, and winners would return to their home towns as conquering heroes, often thousands of dollars richer. Two men from Sandon— a Swede named Algot (“Erik”) Erickson and a Scot named Angus McGillivray— won the international championships more than once, causing much chest-puffing pride among their comrades in the valley. Erickson, a gentle man whose strength in later years was to earn him the affectionate nickname “Iron Man,” would later repeat this feat in partnership with another Swede, Joe Johnson of Silverton. In order to train without distraction, Johnson and Erickson moved in together in an abandoned log cabin on the Bosun Ranch, north of Silverton. The owner’s young son became their “official” timekeeper, and Johnson and Erickson were reported to be so proficient with the hammer and drill steel that they could average better than a blow a second, with hardly a break in the pace when they switched positions to take each other’s place. The training paid off for the two, as they were able to support themselves for a considerable time with their winnings before they finally returned to working in the mines. Pneumatic drills have long since replaced hand-drilling in the mines, but to this day there is a large granite boulder on Bosun Ranch, full of holes drilled into it almost a century ago by these two Swedish steel-drivers. A similar boulder currently sits outside the Sandon Museum, a silent witness to the days when hardened muscles, lightning-swift reflexes, a hammer and a length of drill steel could bring fame, wealth and relative leisure into the life of a hard-rock miner.

As with most “boomtime” communities, the rush of prospectors and miners into the Slocan was soon followed by a flood of business people, eager to make their fortunes in their own way. By mid-1897 Sandon’s mines had a combined payroll of $25,000 a week, or over $1 million a week by today’s standards. From the staples, such as flour, sugar and beef, to the luxuries such as whiskey and tobacco, merchants were keen to meet the demands of the miners, as well as those of the mine owners. Picks, shovels, drill steel, ore cars, horseshoes, mine rails — before long, anything that could be desired, from oysters and ladies’ lingerie to blacksmith’s coal and dynamite was available in Sandon, often from a variety of businesses. During the boom years, the city’s business community featured 29 hotels, 28 saloons — one hotel was considered too “high class” to contain a saloon— three breweries, a bottling plant, three sawmills, three bakeries, three butchers, two newspapers, two Sandon’s many and varied thriving commercial enterprises doctors, two banks, a hydro-electric generating station, a bed and mattress factory, a sash and door factory, brickmasons, carpenters, livery stables, feed merchants, packers and freighters, saddle and harness makers, a telephone exchange and telegraph office, a post office, many restaurants, numerous clothing stores and tailors, a bookstore, tobacconists, drug stores, cobblers and shoemakers, grocers, dry goods stores, jewellers, hardware stores, bath-houses, laundries, barbers and hair-dressers, real estate agents, stock and mining brokers, investment firms, insurance agents and, of course, lawyers. Many of the business owners became prominent townsfolk, including E.R. Atherton, Sandon’s first postmaster and owner of a clothing store, who later became the city’s first mayor. Two business owners in particular stand out from the rest, however — J.M. Harris and Pat Burns. Harris, who at one point owned most of the city, owned several hotels — including two of the fanciest, the Hotel Reco and the Goodenough Hotel — real estate, investment and mining companies, office blocks, and the Sandon Waterworks and Light Company. An empire-builder with a vision, Harris saw Sandon as “his” city, and he invested a great deal of his time and money in a variety of civic improvements, from installing street lights to supporting the city’s fire department and hospital. However, Harris staked too much of his fortune on the city’s future, and as Sandon declined, so did his business empire. Burns, on the other hand, also made a fortune in Sandon, but was shrewd enough to “take the money and run.” In earlier years, he had followed the CPR rails west, supplying the construction crews with beef. Following the completion of the railroad, he opened a butcher shop in Nelson in 1893, but within the year the Slocan silver rush had prompted him to open stores in Sandon, Three Forks and Kaslo. These four stores marked Burns’ first venture into the retail market, a move that was to prove enormously successful. By 1897, Burns was reporting monthly profits of over $15,000 in his Sandon store alone, second only to his Rossland store, which grossed $23,000 a month. Eventually, Burns’ retail holdings would grow into one of the largest meat-packing businesses in Canada, Burns Meats, which survives to this day. Burns himself became a multimillionaire, and later was appointed to the Canadian Senate. Of course, there were also numerous less savoury enterprises, including brothels, bootleggers and gamblers. Sandon became infamous for its “wildlife” among surrounding communities, with its card sharks, con men and bordellos. Most of the gamblers left for greener pastures after the city government outlawed gambling in 1900, but the madams and moonshiners of Lower Sandon continued to ply their trade until the Great Depression of the 1930s finally closed their doors for good. Following the disastrous fire of 1900, a large number of Sandon’s businesses disappeared, as many were not insured, and could not afford to rebuild. With the Klondike gold rush heating up, many business people took this as a signal to seek their fortunes elsewhere. However, several dozen businesses chose to stay in Sandon, due in no small part to the urging of J.M. Harris, who used his still-considerable fortune to underwrite loans for many of the business people who agreed to remain in the city. Businesses in surrounding communities thrived during the reconstruction period, as trainload after trainload of supplies were shipped to Sandon for the rebuilding effort. A smaller, more compact, but much more organized business district emerged following the fire, which featured hotels, groceries, a couple of general stores, a drug store, a newspaper, hardware stores, and many others. The boom years were over, however, and Sandon’s business district would never be the hive of activity it was in the past. Burns Meats closed its doors in the early 1900s, and the building later became the Sandon Meat Market, under different owners. J.M. Harris hung on through Sandon’s periodic “minibooms” over the next 50 years, purchasing competitors’ stores and property as they closed their doors, convinced that the silver market would recover and “his” city would blossom again. In time, Harris would end his time in the valley as he had begun — owning most of Sandon. Following his death in 1953, his widow closed the Reco Hotel and sold off most of his property to lumber salvagers. Today, all that remains of Sandon’s once-thriving business district is the old Slocan Mercantile Block (the current museum), and reconstructions of the Burns Butcher Block, the ice cream parlour and the Atherton General Store, on the east side of the museum. Ruins of other businesses can also still be found, from the remains of the Virginia Block and the Reco Hotel to the concrete foundations and Pelton wheel from Harris’ original hydroelectric plant.

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